Efforts of early years organisation, The Early Years Alliance, to force the government to expose the basis of its inadequate funding for early years has been thwarted.
In December 2018 The Alliance filed a freedom of information (FOI) request to the DfE asking for the calculations, or broader thinking underpinning current early years funding levels. As part of the request, it asked for information on exactly how the Government concluded that the funding rates for three- and four-year-old places, announced in 2015, were sufficient to cover rising business costs up until 2020.
The DfE argued that this information formed part of the development of government policy and that the need to keep it private outweighed the public interest in releasing it.
In response the Alliance took the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which formally rejected the DfE’s argument, and ordered it to provide the relevant ‘spreadsheet, presentation and briefing documentation’ by 14 November.
The DfE has, however, today confirmed to the Alliance that it will not be providing the information as it has lodged an appeal with the First Tier Tribunal, which deals with appeals against ICO decisions.
Sector reaching crisis point
Alliance chief executive Neil Leitch expressed anger that the DfE has always flatly rejected concerns that childcare funding levels have failed to keep up with rising costs and continues to claim that it is investing more than enough into the early years sector.
He said: ‘All we have asked for is proof that this is indeed the case. The fact that the DfE is going to such extreme lengths not to release this information surely begs the question: what have they got to hide?
‘The early years sector in England is reaching a crisis point. Nurseries, pre-schools and childminders across the country are finding it impossible to make ends and, as a result, are being forced to increase parent fees, restrict funded places and, in a growing number of cases, close down altogether.
‘The Department for Education clearly has some serious questions to answer about its childcare policy – but rather than taking this as an opportunity to prove once and for all that its approach to early years funding has been fair and adequate, it’s wasting taxpayers’ money trying to hide information that should be available to all.
‘This is a shameful decision by the government, and one we urge them to reconsider.’
Childcare has been confirmed as a key political background in the upcoming general election, with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats recently announcing plans to extend existing ‘free childcare’ offers. The Conservative party has yet to announce any childcare pledges, but is rumoured to also be considering extending existing offers.
According to early years research company Ceeda, the early years sector in England currently faces a funding deficit of £662m. Statistics recently published by Ofsted in response to a Parliamentary Question revealed that more than 500 nurseries, pre-schools and childminders closed a month on average in the financial year 2018/19.